04 Feb Native Stingless Bees Questions and Troubleshooting
Keeping Native stingless bees is low maintenance, but it is certainly not no maintenance.
I find that some of my customers get worried about their new native stingless bees, and thinking back, I too used to worry and watch and wonder what I should be looking out for.
Here are a few things you can observe, learn and tips I’ve learnt over the years of keeping both native stingless bees and honey bees that might help you, your bees, or just give some piece of mind.
Predators in Sydney – Bembix Wasps
The presence of Bembix wasps has become a bit of an issue in Sydney with an increase in people obtaining native bee hives. The increase of bembix wasp food (native bees) can tip the balance of the ecosystem.
The bembix wasp and syrphid fly are attracted to the native bees, are a predator of the native bees, and can cause the collapse (death) of a hive if their population gets too big. This occurs as the bembix wasp and syrphid fly can ‘hold up’ the bees inside their home and prevent your bees from going out to forage for food. The bees draw on their stores, but eventually the pantry runs low and the syrphid flies can enter/take over as the native bee population can no longer defend (due to low bee numbers) and the hive dies (and a smelly, maggoty, slimey mess is inside the hive as the fly larvae pupate and eat all the food stores.
The bembix wasp will hover around the front of the hive and capture bees and feed them to their larvae. Apparently the wasp needs 30-50 bees to feed one larvae. The forager bees are therefore not then able to feed their own colony as they have been ‘picked off’ by the bembix wasps.
There seems to be a certain time in summer that this is more prevalent and it varies a little from suburb to suburb. It is worth reducing these wasp and fly numbers and one way that I have been able to do this around my hives is with a battery powered (tennis racket shaped) fly swatter/zapper to reduce the wasp numbers and give the bees a better chance. We also need to recognise there is a complex biodiverse food chain relationship and wasps do have a role in our environment too, so the odd wasp is ok in my mind, but consistent or more than say 4 wasps hovering or if the bees are just waiting at their hive entry, not able to venture out to get food, it is worth getting out the tennis racket zapper. I recommend having one at hand around the house (and remove any insecticide aerosols from your home so no sprays get airborne around your hive).
The good news is, that if you can keep the numbers of the wasps at bay and break the breeding cycle of these predators (with the tennis racket zapper), then this will mean less activity the following year and happier, stronger, native bees.
Keep the population bembix wasp and syrphid flies down by ‘zapping’ them. This is one of the few things we can actually do to help out our little native bees.
Here is the link to the electric fly swatter that I use (Ebay Link). I recently bought some from this seller as they are based in NSW. I have included a picture of it below.
And obviously insect spray around native bee hives is a NO go. (bees are insects).
The tennis racket gets a workout indoors at my place too – on house flies and fruit flies.
Predators in Sydney – Syrphid fly
There is another predator to look out for (and zap) – the syrphid fly. This fly can also cause major problems for a hive.
It will lay very small eggs in cracks on the outside of a hive, the larvae will then pupate and crawl inside a hive and finish off its development inside the hive and if too many of them are present, they can destroy the insides of the hive. These syrphid flies are definitely worth spending the time to destroy if you notice them near your hive. Even if you notice just one of them, it is worth zapping it (these flies tend to ‘lurk’).
Here is a link to some more information. From an article of a talented colleague Megan Halcroft on syrphid flies and bembix wasps for further reading. https://www.beesbusiness.com.au/articles/Halcroft%20et%20al_ch3%20pot%20honey.pdf
see pages 35 and 36.
Summer Heat – strange activity (or lack of)
Out of the ordinary behaviour can happen on (or just before) summer heatwaves or summer storm weather.
One particular is this hive where many bees were crawling over the hive (looking to get in).
We worked out that the entrance hole had been blocked (possibly melted over). So the observant and caring beekeeper was able to open up the entrance hole with a skewer (or a stick) and the bees were relieved to once again fly in and out.
It is worth checking this in your hive.
Note: sometimes (actually quite often) the bees may make a resin ‘curtain’ /’awning’ like the one seen below. This is natural and done for both climate control and defense. As long as there are bees coming and going, then it is best to leave it all in place.
More Activity than usual.
in a normal hive, you should notice a steady stream of bees going in and out of your hive (this is a good sign). As well, you’ll notice sometimes bees bring out ‘garbage’ balls. This is the lining of the eggs. This is also a good sign as it means new bees are being born.
Swarming – Mating Swarm
If you notice a cloud of bees in the air (just hanging in a cloud) then you’ve got a congregation of males (drones) that are likely on the lookout for a virgin queen. Your hive will naturally and periodically re-queen itself if the colony decides it needs to. This is a natural occurrence (and nothing to worry bout).
Swarming – Fighting Swarm
The other type of swarm (in the native bee world) is called fighting swarm, where a colony from elsewhere is fighting with your bees.
This is when bees (from 2 different colonies) wrestle each other. The stronger colony wins and will insert a queen (and hence their stronger fighting genetics) into the hive. Whilst this looks very destructive and detrimental to the colony, it almost always ends up in a stronger hive. It is unknown why these social insects fight with each other like this.
(thanks Mark for the photo)
Here is more information on fighting swarms from Ann Dollin . http://www.aussiebee.com.au/abol-013.html
Heavy Rain and your Native Stingless Bees
in Sydney, we seem to be reciging more extreme rain events (heavy downpours).
Here are few tips on things you could do to protect your hive form the rain:
- Add a temporary ‘raincoat’ (this could be a plastic garbage bag over the whole hive (ensure the entry is kept clear so they can breath and come and go). Just like you wouldn’t wear a raincoat when it isn’t raining, so too, your bees dont like to sweat under a raincoat (so remember to take it off and dry the hive out after the rain is over)
- Add an awning or an umbrella to add a bit more protection form the rain.
I hope that your gardens get a good drink and you and your bees keep safe.
Photo: elke Native Stingless bee hives in rain – with umbrella.
Photos: Native stingless bee hive with their temporary ‘raincoat’
Plastic bag ‘raincoat’ for rain protection.
A summer awning over this native stingless bee hive helps in summer sun and rain protection – but is removed in winter to let more winter sun in. (photo credit: Darren)
For the visually minded people (like me), here are a few photos showing various examples of how native stingless bee hives can be installed.
Native stingless beehive is fixed with screws on underside to this timber balcony. It is east facing, protected from sun and wind
Fixed on metal brackets 250mm x 250mm to underside of hive. It is ok to screw up into the base plate of theive (as long as the screws are not longer than the base plate (a 20mm screw is fine).
This hive is east facing and is ‘undercover’ yet receives 3 hours of direct morning winter sun.
This hive is on an east facing wall – the courtgarden faces north. You can see the morning sun streaming into the hive – located about head height to get that sun and air flow in this sheltered courtgarden.
In a larger garden, a timber post fixed with smaller brackets works well.